'Incredible' dream: Nadal faces Thiem for 12th French Open title

Though Dominic Thiem has four wins on clay over Rafael Nadal — only Novak Djokovic has more, the Spaniard will start as the clear favourite on Sunday.

Thiem faces Nadal in a rematch of the 2018 French Open final.   -  Getty Images

Rafael Nadal admits winning a 12th Roland Garros title and 18th major would once have seemed liked an “incredible” dream in a career so often at the mercy of a succession of morale-sapping injuries.

However, Nadal, the second seed, knows he cannot underestimate Austria's Dominic Thiem when they meet again in the Roland Garros final on Sunday.

Thiem has four wins on clay over the 33-year-old Spaniard — only Novak Djokovic has more.

The 25-year-old arrives in the final having shocked world number one Djokovic in a five-set semifinal on Saturday.

“Yes, it's incredible to be here again to be honest,” said Nadal, who has never lost a Roland Garros final and boasts a 92-2 record at the tournament since his 2005 debut.

READ | Thiem thrilled with Djokovic win, eager to face 'favourite' Nadal

“It is very special and difficult to explain, but here we are. And the day that we start thinking about if it's incredible or not probably will be the day to do another thing.”

Nadal has hardly broken sweat at the French Open this year, making the final for the loss of just one set, against David Goffin in the third round.

Against Roger Federer in the semifinals, he conceded just five games, handing the Swiss his worst Slam loss in 11 years.

“There is nobody who even plays remotely close to Rafa,” admitted Federer. “I don't even know who I need to go search for to go practice with somebody who plays like him.”

- 'Ultimate challenge' -

Victory on Sunday will move Nadal on to 18 majors, just two behind Federer on the all-time list. He is also the best part of five years younger than his old rival.

“This is something I never dreamed about five, six, eight years ago, but it's happening today,” said Nadal who has been written off numerous times in his career.

His battles with knee and wrist problems have seen him miss eight Grand Slam tournaments.

ALSO READ | Nadal makes impossible possible at French Open, says Gustavo Kuerten

A wrist injury forced a withdrawal from Roland Garros after two rounds in 2016 which in turn forced him to sit out Wimbledon.

“My goal is to keep going,” a defiant Nadal added.

The world number two allowed Thiem just nine games when they met in the 2018 final in Paris.

However, the Austrian won their most recent meeting on clay in the semi-finals in Barcelona in April in straight sets.

Nadal also needed five sets to see off Thiem in the quarterfinals at the US Open last year. He leads their head-to-head 8-4.

Despite having to play four days in succession, Thiem said he was happy to come back out again on Sunday.

His coach Nicolas Massu, however, had said he asked the tournament referee if the final could be shifted back 24 hours.

“I think it's fine. I mean, it's not the first time that that happens in tennis, and it's not going to be the last time. That's our sport,” said Thiem.

Thiem, bidding to become just Austria's second Roland Garros men's champion after Thomas Muster in 1995, describes facing Nadal in Paris as “the ultimate challenge”.

“I played a really good match against him in Barcelona. It was six weeks ago. So of course I try to do similar even though it's way tougher to play him here,” he said.

ALSO READ | Djokovic suggests 'hurricane conditions' played a part in defeat to Thiem

Despite playing over four hours over two days to defeat Djokovic for just the third time in 10 meetings, Thiem has only spent two more hours on court than Nadal getting to the final.

“I'm feeling fine. I'm full of adrenaline still from today's match, and also I will have that tomorrow,” he added.

“So I'm not going to be tired. It's all going to come after the tournament. So I'm ready to leave all or everything what I have out on the court tomorrow.”

 

STATISTICS

Head-to-head: Nadal leads 8-4

2019 Barcelona Clay SF Thiem 6-4, 6-4

2018 US Open Hard QF Nadal 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5)

2018 Roland Garros Clay F Nadal 6-4, 6-3, 6-2

2018 Madrid Clay QF Thiem 7-5, 6-3

2018 Monte Carlo Clay QF Nadal 6-0, 6-2

2017 Roland Garros Clay SF Nadal 6-3, 6-4, 6-0

2017 Rome Clay QF Thiem 6-4, 6-3

2017 Madrid Clay F Nadal 7-6 (8/6), 64

2017 Barcelona Clay F Nadal 6-4, 6-1

2016 Monte Carlo Clay R16 Nadal 7-5, 6-3

2016 Buenos Aires Clay SF Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4)

2014 Roland Garros Clay R64 Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-3

 

Path to the French Open men's final: Rafael Nadal (ESP x2) vs Dominic Thiem (AUT x4)

Nadal

1st rd: bt Yannick Hanfmann (GER) 6-2, 6-1, 6-3

2nd rd: bt Yannick Maden (GER) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4

3rd rd: bt David Goffin (BEL x27) 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3

4th rd: bt Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG) 6-2, 6-3, 6-3

QF: bt Kei Nishikori (JPN x7) 6-1, 6-1, 6-3

SF: bt Roger Federer (SUI x3) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2

Thiem

1st rd: bt Tommy Paul (USA) 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2

2nd rd: bt Alexander Bublik (KAZ) 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 7-5

3rd rd: bt Pablo Cuevas (URU) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5

4th rd: bt Gael Monfils (FRA x14) 6-4, 6-4, 6-2

QF: bt Karen Khachanov (RUS x10) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2

SF: bt Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5